Sunday, November 29, 2015

Atlanta's Own Freddy Cole plays the Velvet Note

The Velvet Note
About twenty-five miles due north of downtown , a short thirty minute ride up rte 400, is the Velvet Note possibly the best jazz club in the Metro Atlanta area. General Manager Tamara Fuller, like many of us a transplanted New Yorker, started this club almost four years ago with the idea of creating a club that would appeal to musicians, a place where people could experience live music in a living room setting with exceptional sound. To that end she employed an acoustic design engineer to create an atmosphere that maintains vocal and instrumental fidelity throughout the space. The casual, rug clad space is curiously located in a renovated retail store in a strip mall flanked by a Chiropractic office and a Barber Shop. In keeping with the intimate, living room style there are some small tables, some larger community tables, some randomly placed chairs and even a comfortable sofa on which to sit and a rather generous stage that can be seen easily from almost every vantage. 

The venue seats about fifty patrons comfortably and food and drink are available from a courteous and helpful staff. On this past Saturday evening the Note brought Atanta’s own Freddy Cole and his quartet in for an evening of story and song. Mr. Cole is a dapper eighty-four years young and truly one of America’s enduring treasures. He still commands a subtle baritone whose warmth fills you like the first sip of a glass of fine cognac. He was joined by his working quartet of Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Quentin Baxter on drums. Mr. Cole is a fine pianist who plays sparingly in the Basie style and who often cites the Modern Jazz Quartet’s pianist John Lewis as an enduring influence.  He actively tours with this group who know his every move and it is a marvel to witness such organic symbiosis between his fellow musicians.  Mr. Cole is notoriously known for never pre-arranging his set list preferring to read his audience and choose his material extemporaneously- keeping his musicians guessing.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook and never uses charts.

At this sold out show, Mr. Cole started the first set with a song from Frank Sinatra’s repertoire “ A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.” The medium tempo song got the audience in the right mood and you could see this band could swing. The second song was a slow ballad “You’re Bringing the Dreamer  Out in Me” and was originally sung by his brother Nat in 1958 with the arranger Nelson Riddle.  Mr. Cole can make any song bristle with emotion in his most personal conversational way.

Freddy Cole Singing the Blues
“Wild is Love” is from a self produced Nat Cole musical score I’m With You, music by Ray Rasch and lyrics Dotty  Wade, again arranged by the inimitable Nelson Riddle. The show was supposed to be Nat Cole’s  entry  onto Broadway but it never caught on. Bassist Bailey pulses the bossa beat  as Mr. Cole  sang out the boisterous refrain “Wild is Love.” The sentiment about a man looking for love among many choices  is perfectly believable from the octogenarian  whose wizened ways clearly come through in the telling.

Other highlights of Mr. Cole’s performance “I Loved You” It’s Crazy,” “Old Folks,”“Something Happens to Me” and “Sometimes I Love You”  

The quartet is tight and nimble taking the lead from Mr. Cole with Mr. Napoleon’s facile guitar work  being the principle other lead voice in this group. Mr. Bailey is steadfast in his rhythmic consistency and Mr. Baxter showed some subtle brush work on occasion. For the most part this group looks to their leader for direction and respectfully never upstage him, preferring to  allow him the deserved spotlight.

With the holiday just around the corner Mr. Cole treated the audience to a medley of Christmas songs including  a down home blues titled “Blue Christmas.”  What Christmas would be complete without Freddy Cole singing the heartfelt “Christmas Song” made famous by his brother Nat.  The baritone went into the sentimental “Old Days, Old Times, Old Friends” and ended the evening ended with the playful“Jingles the Christmas Cat.”

Mr. Cole will be playing at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC on Dec 21st and then reside at Birdland in New York City from December 22 through 26th.  His latest album is  Singing the Blues  If you plan to be in New York for the Holidays seeing the romantic crooner live  would be the perfect gift for that someone special.

1 comment:

  1. Always glad to read about Freddie. You can't help but wonder why he's not a bigger "star"--the sibling of the great Nat King Cole and a singer doing the American Songbook even before Tony Bennett. Is it because, unlike Nat, he remained a "sit-down" vocalist-pianist, which encourages the public to take his singing less seriously?

    From a "week-end pianist's" perspective, I must say that since the Cloud, the smartphone, and the replacement of discs (LPs or CDs) by "streaming," there's less interest in "live" music and less work for musicians. Jazz saw a brief resurgence 1985-1995, but the easy access to the music and to tracks parted-out willy-nilly in cyberspace eventually squelched the creative efforts of Marsalis and many young artists. The "concept albums" that Sinatra and Riddle put together with the greatest care, ignoring "variety" for the sake of a unified program (a "tone poem") are practically lost on a public that hears only individual "tracks" appearing willy-nilly, liberated from time and space. I think the public will eventually wake up and begin to take music as seriously as you or I (jazz and the American popular song transcend mere "entertainment"--they represent the best achievement of a culture--they qualify as "art" that will endure in spite of the forces of technology). Sinatra and the appearance of the first 33rpm LP were a perfect marriage of art and technology. Now, on the centenary of his birth (Dec. 1915), the bidding wars by the tech giants for rights to stream the works of Taylor Swift (score a win for Apple and its spare billions) portend a flaccid future. But a more hopeful note is sounded by Bob Dylan's recent assessment of the past century's art and its most notable creators. (His short list of cultural heroes--beginning with Irving Berlin and ending with Ole Blue--is one we all would do well to remember. A fertile oasis in the midst of all the noise and the board ops who shape it.